Colonel Anthony Fowle, who has died aged 95, took part in the Battle of the Imjin River and was awarded an MC. He was at Cranleigh from 1935 to 1940 and was house captain of 1 North in his final year as well as being a sergeant in the Officer Training Corp. The following obituary appeared in the Daily Telegraph.
In June 1950 North Korean forces crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. The UN Security Council resolved to go to South Korea’s assistance and US ground forces were immediately ordered into Korea. Britain and its main Commonwealth partners pledged their forces to maintain South Korea’s integrity and these were integrated as the 1st Commonwealth Division. By October, China had entered the war.
Fowle had been posted to 45th Field Regiment Royal Artillery (45 FR) in September, and he embarked for Korea the following month. After joining 170 Independent Mortar Battery RA (170 IMB) in January 1951, he was constantly in action. On April 23 his troop was supporting the Belgian Battalion. The Belgians had been cut off by infiltrating Communist units and were two miles ahead of the main line and on the north side of the Imjin River. At eight o’clock that evening, they were attacked by more than 10,000 Chinese supported by artillery and mortar fire.
Fowle’s troop was firing at the massed hordes over open sights and managed to hold on throughout the night and the next day. When it became obvious that all would be lost if they did not pull out, they made a dash for it across country. The Belgian infantry swam across the river, escaped into the mountains and got clear. Fowle’s troop, however, could not do the same without allowing their guns and vehicles to fall into the hands of the enemy, so they charged across the single pontoon bridge, which was already surrounded by Chinese. The bridge came under withering machine-gun fire, but all the guns and vehicles except one got through and not a single man was lost. After a hectic 12-mile drive across open fields in the dark, they found their way back to their own lines.
Three days and nights of continual action followed. Every morning, the battery found itself surrounded and was forced to fight its way out of a trap. The ferocity of the battle – in which tank commanders sprayed their own units with machine-gun fire to clear them of swarms of enemy that were clambering over them, and infantry, dug into underground bunkers and in danger of being overrun, called down artillery fire on their own positions – caught the imagination of the world.
Fowle was awarded an MC for the six months from January to June 1951. The citation stated that he had shown the greatest gallantry and was always in the forefront of any action.
Anthony Peter Hedley Bruce Fowle was born on August 17 1921 at Chippenham, where his father was the rector at Hardenhuish. He was educated at Cranleigh and on leaving attended a six-month course at the Benmore Forestry School, Argyll, from where he joined the Home Defence Unit. One evening, while he was on sentry duty, a car failed to stop when challenged. Much to the excitement of the locals, he shot out its tyres with his shotgun and arrested the two Italian occupants.
Fowle did his basic military training, aged 19, in York, Scotland and Catterick. In 1941 he was commissioned into the RA and posted to guard the Kent coast. The following year, he embarked for Durban and was in charge of the two guns in the stern of the vessel. He subsequently joined the 2nd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery (2 RHA) in the Western Desert. After the regiment had taken heavy losses, he was attached to the 2nd Indian Field Regiment as intelligence officer. It was part of the Persia and Iraq Force and, for the next two years, his service with PAI Force included spells in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon.
In late 1944, he was posted to India. He commanded mountain batteries at Landi Kotal (now in Pakistan), Deolali and Kohat, Waziristan. After passing the Staff College exam, in 1948 he returned to Pakistan as the chief instructor in gunnery. On one occasion, he was surprised by a cobra sleeping in the drain in his bathroom. His predicament was made no easier by his terrified batman who held the door shut to keep the snake out of the rest of the house.
At first light on January 3 1951, three months before the Battle of the Imjin River, Fowle was in Korea serving with 45 FR. He was manning a forward observation post with the Royal Ulster Rifles when two Chinese Divisions attacked on a brigade front strung out across four miles of mountainous terrain. His regiment fired all day, putting down thousands of shells, but the enemy hordes still came on singing and shouting. When allied forces to the left and right suddenly pulled out, leaving 45 FR with unprotected flanks, they were ordered to withdraw.
It was a pitch-black night and freezing cold. The narrow mountain track was choked with vehicles and 3,000 Chinese armed with rifles and mortars were blocking the way. Fowle’s vehicle was hit and tumbled over the side and into a ravine. Fires were raging everywhere and enemy snipers used the light to pick off their targets. Fowle said afterwards that it was hell. Two hundred men were lost and he was astonished to come out of it alive.
After his service in Korea, he returned to Britain and filled a succession of staff appointments. From 1953 to 1955 he was technical staff officer at the Royal Armament Research Establishment. His regimental duties included service with 47th Guided Weapons Regiment RA, 27th Field Regiment RA and 16 Joint Service Trials Unit in Australia. He retired from the Army in 1971. After a further five years serving as an RA Retired Officer, he joined Hunting Engineering, where he became head of product development.
Fowle had a strong sense of duty and played an active role with the British Korean Veterans, the Bedfordshire Conservative Association and the Church. He took expeditions to Iceland, Newfoundland and Lapland with the British Schools Exploring Society. He was also secretary of the Royal Central Asian Society and travelled extensively with them.
Tony Fowle married, in 1958, Evelyn Impey, whom he met while sailing as a crew on her father’s yacht. She predeceased him and he is survived by their two sons and two daughters.
John Bowler, who also served in Korea where he too won the MC, wrote: “For many years the only other OC I thought had been in the Korean War was Barry Tunnicliffe who had been in the Artillery, 24th Field Artillery I think. He was a very keen member of the BKVA and was responsible for the large Korean Memorial Garden at the National Arboretum. Then I learnt about General Mike Reynolds but sadly not until after his death. He got to Korea one month before I did and was in the Norfolks who for much of the time were next to the Welch. Colonel Anthony Fowle who was 10 years or so older than all of us and was heavily involved in the Imjin and other battles in the Artillery. So that numbers four of us. Maybe others will appear.”